T.H.E Show Newport 2015 Highlight: Audio Zenith PMx2

I just went to Merriam-Webster's site and checked their definition of "dogged determination", it didn't have a picture of Alex Zaets. A missed opportunity, for sure.

Alex has spent the last couple years working on modifications to the Oppo PM-2...sort of. He actually began his relationship with the Oppo PM headphone designer Igor Levitski due to a speaker project he was working on that potentially required a planar magnetic driver. Though that particular requirement didn't pan out, a casual relationship was spawned as Igor became aware of Alex's digital signal processing work correcting headphones and the headphone measurement system he had developed for the work. Through this relationship Alex was exposed to the PM-1 relatively early on in it's design, and had the opportunity to play with some early units. Over time he began to feel that there were some additional things—things that weren't necessarily easy to manufacture—that could be done to further improve the performance of the PM-1. When the significantly lower priced PM-2 was released, he perceived it as an opportunity to use it as a platform for his hot rod ideas. With his relationship with Igor in good standing, a deal was inked for Alex and Audio Zenith to become a sanctioned after-market supplier of heavily modified Oppo headphones.

I talked with Alex for a good half hour about the various modifications he's developed for the PMx2 ($1398), seemingly nothing has gone untouched and the amount of detail and thought that has gone into the modifications is rather stunning. For example, the ear pads are completely redone. The PMx2 pads are angled and have five zones of varying firmness. This is not done for comfort sake—though they were quite comfortable—but rather to adjust the acoustic characteristics and control resonances in the space between the driver and ear. The rear of the pad also has a structure at the base of the pad that allows controlled venting.

How does it sound? Well, show conditions and all that, but man, what I heard was spectacular. I really like the stock PM-1/2, it has a relaxed, laid back sound that suits me well, but I do hear them as somewhat rolled-off up top and a bit too polite. The Audio Zenith PMx2 on the other hand is tight, punchy, and dynamic throughout. Yes, even in the treble regions these modified sounded are marvelously speedy and transparent.

I have measured these headphone not long ago and I have to say this is one of those times when the measurements aren't showing me what my ears are hearing. Though the measurements show the differences are relatively small, to my ears these are very clearly different than the stock headphone. Alex will be sending me another pair sometime soon, you haven't heard the last from me about these hot rod headphones.

Click here if you can't see the video.

Darin Fong Audio's picture

Great article and video Tyll and Alex.
I have heard several iterations of the PMx2 and I agree that they sound fantastic. SO much better than stock PM-1/2. Hard to believe they're even related.

I noticed that Alex has his website up and running now too:

AZ's picture

You are correct, most of my modifications would not be suitable for a large production scale. Planar magnetic headphones in general are prone to some fairly significant driver variations but those could still be addressed with custom work. Yes it could be incredibly time consuming and complicated (years in this particular case) but the results could also be incredibly rewarding. Hearing is believing and I am sure everyone deserves their chance.
Best regards

Chris S's picture

I got to hear these at the T.H.E. Show and was really amazed by how great they sounded. Hopefully Tyll's review will be coming soon!

Here's a link to the impressions page about them on Head-Fi.


qwak's picture

Hi, it could be wonderful sound upgrade of already great sounding headphones but from images on audiozenith it look like visually its kind of downgrade (logo and typeface are too showy...) and that is shame because original Oppo PM line are beautiful headphones with very delicate design...maybe there could be some refinement too .)

AZ's picture

I absolutely love the original design and trust me figuring out every little detail (type, color, texture and overall feel/look) took a long time and lots of effort.
For example, it would have been MUCH easier and way cheaper to just replace the pads and maybe even the whole shell, but integrity of the original design would then be compromised. We decided to go the hard way instead.
As for our logo on the retractable part of the headband it actually is a functional element. One of the minor flaws of both PM-1 and PM-2 is a lack of indication on how far each sliding element is retracted. The only option pretty much is to count the clicks and then remember each count. As a solution along with our logo we allocated several lines corresponding to each click on the slider so users can easily remember different setting for the headband.
We also noticed complaints about poor indication for right and left ear cups on the original OPPOs and added bold R and L letters for easier channel recognition. A good multitude of different designs had to be tested to make these enhancements clearly visible without being tacky.
Hope this clarifies a few more things we had to implement into our design to both differentiate our product and make it easier to use all at the same time.

Schopenhauer's picture

...for this headphone on IF. From what I read on Changstar, I'm very excited and I would love to see this venture enjoy wide-ranging success. I've been looking for a headphone that provides a more extended and articulate treble response than the LCD-2.2 while avoiding the brightness of e.g. an HD800. Essentially, a headphone in between those two. Measurements suggest the PMx2 could be that headphone.